Inspirational Woman: Elaine Fairfax | Founder & Managing Director of Animal Friends

Elaine Fairfax press shot b & wEntrepreneur Elaine Fairfax left school at 15 without any qualifications but has succeeded in building up one of the biggest pet insurance provider companies in the UK.  Founded in 1998, Animal Friends is an ethical pet insurance company with the sole aim of providing great value pet insurance as a means to help support animal welfare.  They enjoyed the largest growth of any pet insurance provider last year and over £1.25 million donated to animal welfare charities.

Animal Friends gross written premium turnover is currently £40 million, with a projected £50 million turnover by end of 2013.

What has been your biggest challenge while building Animal Friends Insurance to its current place as one of the UK’s most successful insurance companies?

The biggest challenge for me was growing the company to a size where we could deal with everything in house. That required true multitasking, especially when we only had a handful of staff rather than the 100 plus we have now. That included not only sales and customer service but also claims, premium collection and marketing. Only when we could run every aspect of the business ourselves could we really grow it quickly as only then could we be confident of giving the very best customer service and having those working for us who had really bought into our strong company ethos. Since we took every process on ourselves in 2008 the business has grown to over 20 times the size it was then.

What differentiates you from your competitors?

The greatest differentiator is that the company was founded on a genuine desire to use business to help the charities I care about.

This has bred a fantastic team spirit and a unique workplace atmosphere that every visitor remarks on.

For the business it means an exceptional level of dedication and care by the staff which runs through each and every department. This results in quite exceptional levels of customer service resulting not only in people staying with us once they take out their insurance but going on to then recommend us with an often evangelical enthusiasm!

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

Being able to create a situation where, through a company we have created from nothing, I can give real and substantial support to some wonderful animal charities.

The Spring of 2013 saw us pass donations of £1.25 million to over 200 charities and our donations continue to grow rapidly.

It’s a truly wonderful feeling when you see the difference such a level of funding makes to hard working and dedicated people selflessly doing difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs to make a difference both to individual animals in distress and, on a wider level, to whole species.

If you weren’t running Animal Friends, what would you be doing?

My strongest motivator is finding ways to help the causes I hold dear. As my skills lie within the business sector then I would have found another enterprise which could have generated funds to help those causes. We did it before when we used our Law firm to give free advice to our selected charities and to help them with fundraising so I would have found another vehicle to help those causes on a more substantial level. When I started Animal Friends I knew nothing about insurance so I am sure I could have just as easily turned my hand to another discipline.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

In business I think I would have to cite Anita Roddick. She created and helmed a huge business, The Body Shop, which became a household name; she did so as a woman, which is not always easy even now and perhaps most importantly she was the first business person to perhaps show that big business does not always have to be about a blind pursuit of wealth at any cost  but that business can be transacted ethically, responsibly and for the good of some very worthy causes along the way whilst still running profitably for shareholders.

Did you anticipate the level of success you now enjoy?

I always held a very strong belief that the idea of Animal Friends, what it stood for and its ethics would make it a great success. That is why my husband and I ran up frightening debt in the early days to keep it going and give it a chance to mature and grow. I have to say though we have been happily surprised just how quickly the business has grown once we had the chance to run everything in house.

I can see now though that the sky really is the limit for us.

What does the future hold for you personally and for your business?

We always have plans for new ideas and we are going to launch a major and very exciting new initiative in the Summer of 2013. We shall continue to develop these ideas and try to be the most innovative pet insurer in the UK. Given where we are now we could easily become the major player in this sector. Such growth would help us to do even more for animal charities in the UK and abroad. That is perhaps where my future lies. We have a fantastic management team here at Animal Friends, they all love the business and know it inside and out. That would give me more freedom to focus even more on the charity side of the work.

I just love visiting charities and playing “fairy godmother” by giving them funds to help them achieve their projects. It is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of life for both me and my husband Chris.

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